Online turf: Utah gangs use social media to recruit

Local News

MURRAY (ABC4 News) – Sunday’s shootout between rival gang members at Fashion Place Mall has raised new questions about gang activity in Utah. 

The director of the Salt Lake Area Gang Project, Lieutenant Mike Schoenfeld,  says gang activity hasn’t increased in the last 10 years but it has evolved. His team is seeing gang members getting younger, more aggressive and more active on social media. 

Gunshots that rang out on Sunday afternoon just outside the mall left a young woman wounded in the leg and young man in critical condition with bullets in his back. Police say they were shot by gang members, 19 year old Jorge Crecencio-Gonzalez of Kamas and 19 year old Jesus Payan-Mendoza of Heber City. 

Lt. Schoenfeld explained to ABC4 News how a couple of teenagers from the Wasatch Back wound up in a shootout in Murray.

“It’s not only a West Valley, Glendale, Midvale, Rose Park issue,” Lt. Schoenfeld said. “The gang issue really is statewide. We see it from Logan to St. George and east to west.”

The Gang Project monitors dozens of active street gangs including 37 Hispanic Gangs, 11 Crip Gangs, 6 Blood Gangs, 6 Asian Gangs, 5 Midwest Influenced such as Chicago Gangs and 6 White Supremacist Gangs

In this online age, it’s not just groups of youths who grew up in the same neighborhoods. 

“Recruiting is on the rise,” Lt. Schoenfeld said. “They are getting smarter about their recruiting. They’re recruiting on social media.”

Their turf is now Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where they boast of criminal activities and taunt rivals. Like we saw on Sunday those disputes can erupt when members encounter each other in the real world.

“If you see two groups that look like they’re going to go after each other or it looks like there’s going to be an issue instead of taking your phone out and standing there and videotaping the whole incident maybe contact 911,” Lt. Schoenfeld said. “Maybe get yourself to a safe place because the reality is anymore it might not just be a fistfight. There might be bullets going downrange.”

Lt. Schoenfeld says gangs are recruiting children as young as elementary school age.

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